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  Priest Pleads Guilty to Sex Abuse
Suspended Cleric Was Associate Pastor at Westminster Church

By Athima Chansanchai
Baltimore Sun
October 16, 2002

A suspended Carroll County priest admitted yesterday in court that he molested two boys two decades ago while he was associate pastor of a Westminster parish.

The Rev. Brian M. Cox, former associate pastor at St. John Catholic Church, pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse. A prosecutor said she would recommend a six-year prison term for Cox at his sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 21.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore placed Cox on permanent administrative leave and revoked his ability to administer sacraments or conduct Mass in 1995, after he admitted to sexual misconduct with minors from 1979 to 1985, church officials have said.

Cox, 63, is the co-founder and director of Resurrection Farm, a ministry to homeless people and families that he operates on a rural plot near Westminster.

He was arrested in May and charged with felony child abuse, third-degree sex offense, fourth-degree sex offense and battery. In that case, John F. Curran III told Carroll County prosecutors that in 1980, when he was a fifth-grade pupil at St. John, he was fondled by Cox in the shower while on swimming outings at what is now McDaniel College.

In June, Cox was indicted on five counts of felony child abuse and three counts of second-degree assault in the alleged sexual abuse of a second boy. In that matter, he was charged with fondling a 13-year-old boy and performing oral sex on the youth in 1980 and 1981.

The Sun does not name, without their consent, victims of sexual crimes identified in court documents.

In a hearing yesterday before Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway, Cox admitted that he sexually abused the boys. Under questioning from his attorney, Andrew Jay Graham, he also said that he is taking antidepressants and has been under the care of a psychologist and psychiatrist.

The judge ordered an evaluation to determine the likelihood that Cox would commit further sex offenses. Cox remains free on bond under the condition that he have no contact with minors.

Cox was joined in the courtroom yesterday by about 20 supporters. Curran's mother was also in court. In an interview, Gretchen P. Murdza said she was unaware of her son's abuse until April.

"This has been a terrible number of months," she said. "But a criminal is a criminal, whether they wear a Roman collar or not. As a mother, the worst thing is that you realize you can't protect your children, can't keep them safe."

Curran is on active duty with the Navy, stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., she said.

Deputy Carroll County State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore read from a transcript of taped conversations between Curran and Cox.

Cox apologized for hurting Curran and told him that he went to a bishop in 1984 and told him he had a problem and needed help. Cox told Curran that the bishop had responded that Cox was a priest and therefore didn't need help.

Prison term possible

Gilmore said she would ask for a six-year prison term, the maximum under nonbinding sentencing guidelines for Cox. Child abuse carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, she said.

Other charges against Cox were dropped.

The suspended priest's attorney said he would seek probation for his client.

"Society would be much better served by having the defendant work in worthwhile projects than simply sit in a jail cell," Graham said. "This is a difficult and sad day for Father Cox. He made this decision a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to be honest. He didn't want to put the victims through a trial."

Cox served as a priest of the Josephite religious society at St. Pius V from 1968 to 1973. He joined the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1981. He served at St. John from 1978 to 1989 and assisted at St. John and St. Peter in Libertytown from 1989 to 1995.

In 1995, Cox was brought to the attention of the archdiocese by a third party who said Cox had engaged in sexual misconduct in 1981.

Cox admitted to sexual misconduct with minors from 1979 to 1985, according to the archdiocese, which suspended him.

The archdiocese forwarded the allegation to the Carroll County state's attorney's office in August 1995 and tried to send investigators to question him, but they were unable to do so.

Cox had been sent to an in-patient psychiatric center in St. Louis by the archdiocese.

A prosecutor assigned to the case later complained that the church would not disclose his whereabouts, but an attorney for the archdiocese said church records don't show any request from prosecutors.

A year later, Cox returned to Resurrection Farm, which had no affiliation with the archdiocese.

'The right outcome'

Archdiocese spokesman Steve Kearney said yesterday, "This guilty plea is the right outcome. Nothing's more important than protecting children and we hope that this outcome helps bring healing to the people he's harmed."

Cox's supporters gathered outside of the courthouse yesterday and embraced him.

"He is much more than this," said Susan McIntosh, who said she has known Cox her entire life. "These are one or two incidents in his whole entire life. ... We need to show mercy."

Murdza, mother of one of Cox's victims, reacted to the presence of so many backing Cox.

"I find this misplaced support of him embarrassing for people who were there," she said. "What about these victims?"

 
 

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